Nikon D100 SLR Review
By Movable Type Admin
Canon, Fuji and Nikon have set a new standard for interchangeable lens digital SLR cameras, both in price and performance. Canon's EOS D60 has enjoyed a several month advantage by coming to market first, but Nikon has answered the call with the D100 and Fuji with their FinePix S2 Pro. These cameras are selling between $1999-2300 and this marks another significant price drop for digital SLR cameras. Not only are they less expensive, they're now packing twice the resolution with six-megapixel image sensors. The D60 employs a CMOS type and the D100 and S2 Pro use the more conventional CCD type. This seems to make little difference as they all capture excellent image quality with lots of dynamic range. And there's little to no difference between 25-30 second exposures on the D60, S2 Pro and D100, they're all amazingly free of digital noise.
The D60 and D100 are physically about the same overall size and weight which is very compact and light when compared to the likes of the Canon EOS 1D or the Nikon D1X. These dSLR cameras are built on professional all-metal and weather-proofed bodies and have the "heft" to prove it. The D60 and D100 have metal under-frames but make use of lighter composite materials for the outer body. The 1D and D1X have integral vertical grips, the D60 and D100 make use of optional battery grips that add a vertical shutter release and secondary camera controls. Most non-professional users will never need the indestructibility offered by the 1D or D1X and will be more than satisfied with the ruggedness of the D60 and D100 (and pocket the $3000 difference in price!) You carry one of those heavy dSLR cameras around in your hand for an hour or even around your neck with a strap and believe me, you'll want a lighter weight camera.
The D100 when used with an AF-S lens is quite fast at auto focus, so fast that I often found myself half-pressing the shutter several times just to be sure of the focus lock. The D60 with an ultrasonic EF lens is quite robust at AF but the D100 is noticeably quicker, especially in lower light levels. That's not to say that the D100 is in the D1, D1X, or D1H league as far as AF speed is concerned, it is not. There's also something about the "feel" of the D100 in your hand, whether it's ergonomic or aesthetic I don't know, it just fits in my hand more comfortably. And I wasn't the only one to say that, two of my professional photographer friends said the same thing and both of them are very pro-Canon users. If pressed to give my purchase recommendation I would give the D60 a slight edge for studio portrait type work and the D100 would be my choice for pursuing more active subjects. The D100 will also work well in the studio but lacks a built in PC sync connector, you need to use the Nikon AS-15 hot shoe/PC adapter.
The D100's eyelevel viewfinder is large and bright with a 24mm eyepoint and a very comfortable viewing angle. It doesn't give you the feeling that anything digital is going on. Huh? What I mean is that what you see through the viewfinder doesn't look "cropped" or different in any way than what you see through the F5's viewfinder. The D100 uses a B-type Bright View Clear Matte screen and I'm happy to report that this was an excellent choice. It's a good thing too because the focusing screens are not interchangeable. The viewfinder offers a wide range of dioptric adjustment so even those wearing glasses should be "good to go." Be sure to go into the Custom Menu and enable settings #18 AF Area Illumination and #19 Grid Display. You can now easily see the active AF area as it lights up in red and the grid is always handy to keep the horizon or other portions of your picture properly lined up or level. The digital status line at the bottom of the viewfinder has just enough information without going to the point of overload. There's only just so much information that you need displayed there, too much becomes a distraction. At a glance you'll know the really important things like shutter speed, aperture, AF and flash status, exposure mode, exposure or flash comp and number of frames remaining. All things considered I give the viewfinder my "two thumbs up" approval -- this is why you buy a SLR in the first place and the D100 won't disappoint you here.
Unlike the original D1, the D100 has image playback magnification on the color LCD monitor. You can enlarge the image to check for critical focus, color, exposure and content up to 9X and then scroll around inside of it. The color and hue on the D100's LCD is very accurate and shows approximately 98% of the final captured image. While reviewing captured images you press the 4-way controller right or left to bring up the extended exposure information and histogram display. Learning how to properly read that histogram will tell you at a glance whether or not you have over or underexposed the picture. The D100's menu system although complex because of the number of options, is designed quite logically. It's broken down into four main sections; Playback, Shooting, Custom Functions and Setup. Like the D1X and D1H menu system, the Custom Functions are numerous and allow you to change many of the camera's parameters and the function of certain buttons. The menu items are presented in large characters and the colors used are quite contrasty so it can be easily readable even in high ambient light conditions.
The D100's EN-EL3 lithium battery is almost physically identical to Canon's BP-511. And like the BP-511 it just seems to go and go and go. That says a lot for the camera's power consumption or should I say its lack of consumption. I was able to shoot and preview many hundreds of images in the first two days of use before I recharged the battery. And that included a lot of LCD useage as I was calling up the menus and changing settings frequently. The EN-EL3 is a proprietary battery so my first recommendation is to purchase a backup. You can't run the camera on any other type of battery, however most people may never use it. For this reason I rate the D100's battery as excellent. The MB-D100 multifunction grip is as indispensable as the BG-ED1 grip on the Canon D30/D60. Whether using a large zoom or prime telephoto lens you'll quickly appreciate the extra support and weight counterbalance that it affords. If you shoot in portrait mode frequently you'll love the vertical shutter release and grip, it really "completes" the camera. And the voice memo option is very handy to remind you of the people, places or things in your photographs.
The D100 like the other D1 cameras uses CompactFlash Type I or II storage devices and is fully compatible with IBM 512MB and 1GB Microdrives. I used a Lexar Pro Series 512MB CF card and a 1GB Microdrive for all of my testing of the D100. Depending on what quality you are shooting at even large capacity devices can fill up rapidly so don't bother with low capacity media. I figure that if you are buying a 6-megapixel camera then you intend on capturing the best images the camera is capable of creating. The 3008x2000 pixel Large/Fine JPEGs are 3.1MB, the TIFF-RGB is 17.2MB and NEF (raw) uncompressed images come in at 9.5MB.
The maximum capture rate is 3 frames per second and the D100's buffer can handle 6 frames in JPEG and TIFF or 4 frames in raw NEF mode. As the buffer data is processed you can shoot another Large/Fine frame in about one and a half seconds in JPEG mode or wait about twelve seconds for the entire buffer to be processed. It takes about seven seconds in NEF uncompressed mode to be able to take the next shot and about a half a minute to process the four buffered images. Things really slow down in NEF compressed mode, each image requires about 35-40 seconds to process. It's pretty much the same for the TIFF-RGB mode with each image taking about 30 seconds to be processed. It's easy to see that the D100 like most digicams has been optimized to capture JPEG compressed images. Having printed out a number of the large/Fine JPEG images at 13x19" I can assure you that this will be sufficient for most users' needs. Those in pursuit of the best possible images will be post-processing with Photoshop and in that case the uncompressed NEF format will best fit the workflow.
My list of things to change or improve is quite short. Nikon chose USB 1.1 for data I/O from the camera to the computer. USB 2.0 would have been a better choice as newer PCs are now coming with the faster USB implementation. Even if you don't have it, USB 2.0 is backwards compatible with existing USB standards. With USB 1.1 it can take ten minutes to move a gigabyte of data off of a Microdrive, FireWire or USB 2.0 can do it in about a minute. I've already mentioned the lack of a flash PC sync connector - come on, even inexpensive film cameras have one! And give us more flash sync shutter speeds above 1/180 sec., faster speeds are needed for daylight fill-flash useage. The somewhat flimsy CF card door needs to be beefed up. And please "straighten" the path for the CF card insertion. It's at a slight angle now and can sometimes be a real challenge to insert a new card.
The D100's image quality is sure to please. There were very few times that I needed to use anything other than Auto white balance, it works very well, even in mixed lighting situations. The image resolution rivals that of the more expensive dSLRs at a much more affordable price point. It's not going to replace the D1H for capture speed or the D1X for processing power. These are truly "professional" cameras for professional users and built on the rugged and weather-proofed F5 chassis. The D100 is the answer for "the rest of us" who are tired of the limitations of lesser digicams and want the power and creativity that comes with a real SLR. Just remember that the process of capturing great images begins with the lens. Many buyers might be a little financially strapped after buying the D100 body--but don't scrimp on the lens. You don't have to buy the best Nikon glass but the better the lens, the better the image captured. The newer technology AF-S lenses will yield the most robust auto focus performance and you must use a D- or G-type lens to make use of the metering system.
It's hard to believe that only three years ago you needed to spend $10K or more to get
a dSLR with the features of the D100 and only half of its image resolution! If
you have the money to spend, then stop waiting -- the D100 is here now and it really
puts the fun back in the picture taking process without breaking the bank.
Good friend Dennis Curtin has just released his new Nikon D100 book, get yours today!
The book is 128 pages and printed in B&W and sells for just $24.95. For $34.95 you
can get the printed book plus a full color eBook on CD or the eBook alone for $19.95.
You got a great camera, now learn how to get the most out of it.
Dan's Second Opinion
First I want to say I like the D100 ! It has a that good Nikon feel to it, sort of like the feeling an old friend's handshake. I'm currently using a Canon D60 in and out of the studio and really like the big file size,the D100 produces an image that would be hard to tell from the D60 in all respects. The D100 seems to focus a little faster than the D60 in low light which is certainly a bonus for studio and wedding photographers. If you're just switching over to digital and still shooting film, the D100 will fit in your camera bag easily without taking up much space leaving room for your trusty film camera.
Steve has covered the tech stuff completely so I will leave that part to him, as a shooter I would not hesitate to purchase the D100.
Nikon D100 Firmware Update
October 7, 2002:
Your camera's current version is displayed when viewing an image and you have selected the image data display. If Version 2.00 is displayed, there is no need for this upgrade. If an earlier (lower number) version is displayed, then please acquire the Version 2 upgrade service.
The Version 2.0 firmware upgrade's added performance:
This firmware upgrade will enhance the D100 camera's compatibility and together with the newly planned Nikon Capture 3.5 Upgrader will provide the highest performance. Please read the following for shipping instructions and details.
For upgrade content information, service location and other details, please
refer to a comprehensive listing at
D100 Firmware Upgrade page. You only pay for shipping to the Nikon
Service Center, Nikon will pay the return shipping charge. There is no
charge for this firmware upgrade.
D100 Underwater HousingsThinking about going "under" with your D100? Why not, it makes a great underwater camera when used with the right housing and strobes. Here's some housing reviews from my friends at WetPixel.com:
Want a second opinion?
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